During the weekend just gone, Holland hosted the first Dutch Grand Prix since 1985 and eagerly awaited the appearance of their superstar, Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing.
The excitement began on the Saturday, as Robert Kubica replaced Alpha Romero’s Kimi Raikkonen due to the latter testing positive for COVID. With such short notice, Kubica was able to qualify P18, ahead of the Haas rookies. With such a short track, the 20 drivers found it hard to not run into traffic during their timed laps. The first victim of this in Q1 was Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, qualifying P17 after having his final run ruined in the third sector by the two Haas drivers, Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher. The second victim was Sergio Perez of Red Bull, ending up P16 and out of Q2 after being unable to start his second flying lap.
In Q2, traffic wasn’t the issue, it was the two red flags brought out by both of the Williams crashing near the end of the session. The first flag came was due to George Russell crashing into the barriers on his second run at Turn 13, with Nicholas Latifi crashing after the restart at Turn 8 which left too little time for the session to be restarted and left Lance Stroll of Aston Martin, Lando Norris of McLaren and Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri unable to progress into Q3, leaving them P12, P13 and P15 respectively, leaving the Williams pairing to take P11 and P14.
Q3 was much more straight forward, with Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren taking P10, just behind the Alpine duo of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon in P9 and P8 respectively. The surprise of the session however came from Apha Romero’s Antonio Giovinazzi finding himself the beneficiary of the early end to Q2, finishing the day in a very impressive P7, not far behind the two Ferrari’s of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in P5 and P6 respectively. Pierre Gasly again performing incredibly to bring his Alpha Tauri up to P4. Pole position was won by the home favourite Verstappen, which was closely followed by the Mercedes’ of Sir Lewis Hamilton and then Valtteri Bottas.
As Max and Lewis line up on the first row of the grid, Latifi and Perez lined up in the pit lane following Latifi’s new gearbox after his crash, and Perez taking on a new engine. On a track which is difficult to overtake, it means getting moves done on the first few laps is crucial for making up places, so getting a good start can make or break many drivers’ races. Unfortunately, Giovanazzi had a poor start, dropping to P10 by the end of the first lap, and Max creating a gap of over a second between himself and Hamilton already. Early into the race, Ricciardo was having some engine issues in P9, with it smoking and reportedly ‘leaking oil’, said Russell. By lap 10/72, many of the drivers were complaining about their tyre wear. With the gap between the leading two cars reaching around 3 seconds, Bottas began to drop back and attempt to save his tyres in order to play the alternate strategy game against Red Bull and their solitary race leader. For the majority of the race, Perez was the only man able to make some overtakes, getting past Mazepin on lap 17, and Latifi on lap 20 to reach P16.
Only when Hamilton pitted for fresh mediums on lap 21 did the fight for the lead come back into the picture. Unfortunately for the lead Merc, he had a slow stop, meaning Verstappen could pit on lap 22 to cover the attempted undercut with ease, coming out of the pits still with a 2 second gap ahead of Hamilton. However, now Bottas was in the lead by almost 10 seconds. It took until lap 32/72 for Max to catch and pass Bottas on the start/finish straight with DRS, with Lewis being let through after the first corner. By lap 37, just Lando and Kubica were the only cars still to pit, running P7 and P14 respectively. The only spin of the race came from four time world champion Sebastian Vettel on the banked Turn 3 while attempting to pass Kubica on the inside, nearly collecting Bottas who was catching the two in order to lap them.
It took until just lap 40 for Lewis to be pulled back into the pits for another set of medium tyres in order to try another undercut, however he was released just behind a train containing Stroll, Russell and Ricciardo meaning he was unable to have the initial pace to make it work, and Max was able to pit the following lap onto fresh hard tyres and come out ahead of the queue which held Hamilton up. On lap 42, Giovanazzi’s weekend was ruined by a puncture, forcing him to pit and drop out of the points. Mazepin retired on lap 44 with reported hydraulic issues. As Lewis was making up the time on Max, despite his frustration with being called in early to the pits. Perez remained on the same tyres from lap 9 until lap 49 allowing him to pit late, dropping from the points, to P12 on fresh soft tyres to chase down the McLaren’s and Alpine’s ahead. Tsunoda retired with a problem with his engine on lap 51, while Hamilton continues to hunt down Max for the race win. By lap 56, Perez is able pass Ricciardo who was on much older tyres for P10 and pushes towards Lando and Ocon. Hamilton’s worries over the early second pit stop became a reality, as from lap 59 to 61, the gap grew from 1.8 seconds to 3.7, pretty much securing the win for the fan favourite. Late into the race, on lap 67/72, Perez makes a daring move around the outside of Norris on Turn 1 which results in contact and slight damage to both cars, with the Red Bull man pulling ahead by Turn 3. The most amount of intrigue came from the Mercedes garage as Bottas pits late onto soft tyres and puts in the fastest lap of the race, despite being told to ‘abort his attempt’ by his engineer. This was followed by Hamilton saying on the radio that he ‘needed the point’ and pits to take the fastest lap on the final lap, leaving Max Verstappen to win his home Grand Prix by almost 21 seconds, putting him into the driving seat of the Driver’s Championship heading into Monza this weekend.
Overall, an interesting first race at the circuit in decades, with Giovanazzi having his fantastic qualifying made pointless, and a Driver of the Day performance from Sergio Perez, climbing from the back of the grid to finish P8. A great weekend for Pierre Gasly, holding P4 from the Ferrari duo, with Alonso passing Sainz on the last lap. This means Bottas takes P3 in the Driver’s Championship ahead of the high flying Lando Norris, and Ferrari create a gap between themselves and McLaren in 3rd and 4th respectively in the Constructor’s Championship after a weekend to forget from the team in papaya.